Men may not want to pin their hopes on acupuncture as a treatment for impotence, or erectile dysfunction, a new review of evidence suggests.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese method of stimulating specific body points through the insertion of specialized pins that sometimes carry faint electrical charges. Traditionally, acupuncture has been used to maintain and restore body functions.

Several studies had reported "acupuncture increases nitric oxide," which has been tied to the ability to maintain erections, Dr. Myeong Soo Lee, at Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine in Daejeon, told Reuters Health by email.

Yet to date, published studies that evaluated acupuncture as a treatment for erectile dysfunction provide "no convincing evidence" that acupuncture is beneficial for this condition, Lee and colleagues report in the journal BJU International.

After assessing 80 research studies, Lee's team found only 2 that were randomized controlled trials - that is, studies that compared a treatment group with group that did not receive treatment or underwent a sham treatment. This trial design is the gold standard for research studies. (The acupuncture treatment was applied all over the body, not on the penis itself.)

One of those two trials reported benefits, while the other did not, the authors note.

Lee's group also identified 2 trials, in a total of 45 men, that did not include a group of men that did not receive treatment or underwent a sham treatment.

Those trials both suggested some benefit from acupuncture among men with erectile dysfunction, but the investigators caution that the design leaves studies open to bias and often suggest false-positive results.

Taken together, these results fail to show whether acupuncture offers any benefit as a treatment for erectile dysfunction. "More rigorous trials are required," Lee said.

SOURCE: BJU International, August 2009.